Flying the Hostile Skies
Despite a century plus of passenger flights, the air travel experience remains turbulent. Even after navigating long check-in and security lines, you aren’t necessarily cleared for takeoff. The common practice of overbooking flights means you could still be denied entry with a ticket in hand.
Adding to this pre-existing problem are the twin troubles of increasingly extreme weather and crew shortages due to COVID and other illnesses, contributing to an uptick in canceled flights. The first half of 2022 saw 3.2% of flights canceled, up from 2.1% in 2019. Flight delays were up 40% over the same period.
All in all, the skies seem more hostile than friendly nowadays, as the stress of flying soars.
The air travel crisis reached a new altitude when Southwest Airlines (LUV) canceled more than 16,000 flights over the 2022 holiday season. This spurred legislators to join travelers in saying enough is enough.
US Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg previously proposed requiring airlines to issue food and hotel vouchers to stranded travelers, along with refunds to those whose flights are canceled or delayed by more than three hours.
However, Senators Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut feel a more ambitious plan is needed. They have proposed an Airline Passengers’ Bill of Rights.
A Passenger Bill of Rights
The senators believe airlines should be on the hook for at least $1,350 should they refuse to board a passenger due to an oversold flight. Additional proposed consumer protections include either refunds or provisions for alternative transportation if a flight is delayed between one and four hours, and meals plus lodging if the delay exceeds four hours.
On the other hand, Airlines for America, the trade group serving as the voice for most US carriers, hopes to keep the bill grounded, claiming overselling flights is necessary to protect airline companies’ bottom lines. It asserts that vacant seats will lead to higher fares.
So for now, travelers should remain seated with their seatbelts fastened. Whether or not the legislation is passed, there is likely more turbulence ahead.
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